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Tuesday, 18 February 2014 07:04

The Koch Brothers and Libre, Their Hispanic Voter Project

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Chicanos(Photo: z2amiller)It was late-2011, and with the presidential election a little more than a year away, Daniel Garza, a former staffer in George W. Bush's White House public liaison office, was pretty darned optimistic. Garza had established a project called the Libre Initiative, and he was having success hunting around for funding.

Garza hoped to raise $1 million by the end of the year. According to The Center for Public Integrity, high on Garza's list of prospects was "representatives of the Koch family." Ultimately, "Garza declined to say ... whether Koch interests ... committed any funds yet to the initiative, a 501 (c) (4) which is permitted to keep donors names secret."

Flash forward to the early days of this year, and with control of Congress at stake in November, the Koch Brothers, GOP officials and its surrogates and campaign funders, once again has their eyes on the Hispanic vote.

And, that's where Daniel Garza and his Mission, Texas-based Libre Initiative comes into play. And, as might be expected, he is again bubbling with optimism.

Veteran journalist Chris Moody recently reported in Yahoo News that "A group of Hispanic conservatives is ramping up an aggressive campaign to attract Hispanic voters as part of an ongoing effort on the right to bring more minorities into the fold."

According to Moody, Libre "is part of a sprawling network of advocacy groups coordinated in part by the Koch brothers. ... Through the vast web of conservative and libertarian donor programs, which received a thorough examination recently by the Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics, Libre has received $3.8 million in funding from the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners and TC4 Trust, which provide grants to free-market nonprofit groups. LIBRE's Arlington, Va., headquarters also shares a floor in the same office building as Freedom Partners."

According to the 2010 census, there are some 50 million Hispanics living in the U.S., about 16 percent of the nation's population. For the 2012 election cycle, Republicans were taking what they thought to be major steps to woo Hispanics, America's fastest growing minority. Seventy-one percent of Hispanic voters supported Obama, while just 27 percent voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney. (In 2004, Bush received the most support with 40 percent, according to Pew Research's Hispanic Trends Project.)

Re-Enter the Koch Brothers and Dan Garza's Libre Initiative

In April of last year, Charles Koch met with a number of major Republican Party donors in Palm Springs, California. He was there to assess the failures of 2012 and to plot the future. "[T]here would be no backing down, Mr. Koch said, according to some of those attending," The New York Times reported. "They would learn from their mistakes, test new strategies in the coming months and prepare for the 2014 elections, with control of Congress once again at stake."

According to Chris Moody, Garza's Libre Initiative has become a more sophisticated organization and "is supplementing its policy work by offering a menu of social services, an unusual move for a political group of its kind. During tax season last year, ... Libre provided free tax-preparing services in cooperating with H&R Block. It is offering English classes and health and wellness checkups year-round. In 2014, the group is launching a free GED course, an initiative Garza holds dear."

Make no mistake, The Libre Initiative represents full-blown conservatism: "lower taxes, an overhaul of the welfare system, school choice and restricting regulation." It is only on immigration issues that LIBRE appears to veer from the GOP's playbook; claiming to support comprehensive immigration reform.

Libre's main focus, however, is its vehement opposition to Obamacare. In fact, Moody reported, "no issue has taken more of Libre's resources than opposing ... [Obamacare]. In recent months, Garza and Libre staff have penned multiple anti-Obamacare op-eds that have appeared in USA Today, the Tampa Tribune, Fox News Latino and Forbes.

Libre is focusing a chunk of his war chest and a fair amount of political capital on two congressional districts where it sees Texas Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego and Florida Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, vulnerable to attacks over their sup[port of Obamacare. "Libre has previously spent about $700,000 on issue ads targeting the two lawmakers in both English and Spanish, and it plans to spend more closer to the November midterm election," Moody reported.

The irony of the Libre/Koch Brothers campaign against Obamacare congressional supporters in districts, is that those districts contain large numbers of Hispanics in desperate need of health care options.

According to the El Paso Times, "Garza claims to be speaking in the interest of Hispanics, but in opposing Obamacare, he's flying in the face of Hispanic opinion, said Matt A. Barreto a political scientist at the University of Washington. Barreto directs the Washington Poll and studies political participation by minorities.

'There's overwhelming support for a government role in health care among Hispanics — it's probably the highest of any group,' Barreto said. 'It's also the group with the greatest percentage of uninsured. They have the most to benefit from health care reform.'"

Libre has assembled an experienced and savvy 35-member staff: Its National Strategic Director is Jose Mallea, formerly the campaign manager for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio; Its Policy Director Jorge Lima, once an adviser to former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno; and its Chief of Staff Andeliz Castillo, "led outreach to Hispanic media for the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential election." LIBRE is operating in "eight states, with plans to expand to a dozen by year's end," Moody reported.

Garza may be optimistic, but his head isn't completely buried in the sand. He recognizes that the GOP has fared poorly in past elections and, he told Moody, "Their recent outreach and engagement efforts have not been effective." He also pointed out that if the GOP continues to block immigration reform, it will be that much harder to convince Hispanic voters that the Republican Party cares about them at all.